Home / Boston Marathon: F1? F-U!

Boston Marathon: F1? F-U!

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Just when you think women are considered equals to men in American society — if you even do think that — something always crops up to reinforce that we’re really not. Sports is one arena where the inequities can still be seen quite clearly.

Title IX is under attack because, heaven forbid, it gives girls and women equal opportunity to play sports. And once they’re actually out there playing, girls and women are still considered an afterthought to boys’ and men’s programs. Look at women’s college team names, for example, names like, Lady Volunteers or Lady Tigers. The men’s teams don’t need qualifiers in front of their names. They’re just the Volunteers or the Tigers, not the Gentleman Volunteers or Gentlemen Tigers. If you put a qualifier in front of only one set of names, you immediately signal that there’s something not quite fully authentic about that set. The real teams are the men’s teams — you know this because their team names have no qualifiers.

Now, look at this photo from today’s Boston Marathon, and then tell me that the real runner isn’t the man, defending men’s champion Timothy Cherigat of Kenya. He’s obviously the authentic #1, while the woman standing next to him, defending women’s champion Catherine Ndereba, also of Kenya, is merely a female #1.

Number ones aren't equal

I’m sure some of you will argue that, after all, Cherigat was the very first runner to cross the finish line at last year’s marathon and that Ndereba was simply the first female to cross the finish line. Her overall finish was 13th. That’s a valid point. But I wonder: some day, if a woman finishes first overall — and some argue that it’s possible because women’s times keep closing in on men’s — will she get the plain #1 and the man an M1?

And why can’t Cherigat simply hold a sign that says M1 right now? If we have separate men’s and women’s categories for the race, why is only one of those categories labeled? Once you get past the elite runners, many women start crossing the finish line sooner than men do. Why are those women wearing an F in front of their number and the men not wearing an M?

In order to be equals in society, women need semantic equality included in the package. Otherwise, the special names given to women simply reveal their unequal status in the eyes of sports writers, sports fans, athletic directors, sports promoters and owners, and more importantly, even society at large.


Also posted at Bitch Has *Word*

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About bhw

  • Kieran

    way late to this party but… this may piss some people off, but… Men make up most of the field (more competition, entry fees) and run faster times, yet the prize money is the same for men’s and women’s divisions. In that respect, race directors go out of their way to give women “equal” treatment. If you really want equality, get rid of the gender divisions, use one set of numbers for everybody, and let the fastest runners take home the prize money. Currently, this would seriously hinder the ability of elite female runners to earn decent money.

  • Joe

    No problem, I’m big into endurance sports and this is the only thread I can recall touching on the subject. Another interesting thing about Boston that might be germane is that to run in it you have to qualify by previously running another marathon within a qualifying time which is determined by gender and /or age group. So If my mife and I wanted to run it I’d have to have to finish an accredited qualifying race withing 3:15 while my wife would have to run a 3:45. Obviously, there are some other equity issues and pervading mindsets that support the big F. Unfortunately, my wife would be more likely to get within a 3:15 than me.

  • bhw

    Joe, you’re like my personal statistician on this thread. Thanks!

    Matt, I hear you. A woman may never be the overall BM winner. But some elite women do beat some elite men, so I still don’t see why the men after the plain #1 can’t wear an M.

    Just asking for semantic equality, is all.

  • Joe

    Paula Radcliffe holds the womens record with 2:17 and Khalid Kannouchi has the men’s with a 2:05 so there’s roughly a 27 second per mile difference, for now. However, when you get into ultra events women begin to overtake men for superiority. Prior to Dean Karnazes winning the last Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles) the previous two had been won by Pam Reed. She also recently completed a 300 mile non-stop run setting the record for either gender and breaking the record previously set by Karnazes who had gone 268.

  • Matt

    I don’t know if you are a long distance runner, but, for whatever reason, there is a difference between men and women in terms of the ability to traverse 26.2 miles. Catherine Ndereba is an unqualified marathon machine (and the world record holder), but she came in 20 places behind the leader. The notion that women are closing the gap is understandable, since they have more room to move down from 2:30, 2:25 type marathon times than men do. Elite male runners are under 2:10 consistently, 2:05 in some events. Its no different than the mile also. Men cannot continue to take time off of the current record (3:43.13). The gap can be bridged by men and women, as you say some studies have shown, but the possibility that a woman will win the marathon outright is hard to swallow. This is not coming from bias; its coming from nearly 20 years of long distance running.

    The reason for separate bib with an F is because they are all running together in the same race at the same time. It is important to note who the first elite female runner is. If the men are winning the event outright, then they have “earned” the right not to require an M in front of their. Not because they are men, but because they have won every time.

  • The phrase “wheelchair divisions” conjures up oddly interesting imagery in my mind. Maybe I’ve just been reading too much military science fiction lately.

    Yet I can almost see the Wheelchair Divisions of the far future, rolling across an enemy army’s feeble fortifications, ending the careers of hidebound old generals, and paving the way for a new generation of brilliant commanders.

    Yes, definitely too much military science fiction, and not enough sleep.

  • Joe

    The wheelchair divisions do the same course. Alot of courses do an an out and back where you pass the leaders when they’re coming back. Its really cool to get a chance to see the elites flying by, but you really get the inspirational boost from seeing the wheelchair competitors.

  • Bennett Dawson


    Wheelchair, Runner, Couch Potato:

    WM1 – 1:24 WF1 – 1:47
    M1 – 2:05 F1 – 2:35
    CPM1 – DNF/HP* CPF1 – 5:48

    *Hit Pub

  • bhw

    Here’s the link to the Boston Athletic Association’s page on wheelchair and other disability divisions. It doesn’t mention anything about the course, which leads me to believe that it’s the same one. It doesn’t say it explicitly, though.

  • bhw

    Thanks, Bennett. I’m trying to confirm for certain that the wheelchair division runs the same route. I think they do, but I can’t swear to it yet….

  • Bennett Dawson

    Incredible. But that’s why the runners and the chariots had different venues in ancient Greece.


    Great post BTW.

  • bhw

    Even women in wheelchairs beat men on feet!

    It’s amazing, isn’t it? The first man to cross did it in 1:24. The first woman in 1:47.

    That’s some serious upper body strength.

  • Bennett Dawson

    No Shit? What? The shortest time for covering the total miles (not a shorter course for kids, ladies, or wheelchair rollers) was set by a wheelchair roller?

    Shut my mouth!

    Somehow, I can’t see that. You give me a track or a course, and an Ethiopian vs a wheelchair roller, and you’re telling me that the wheelchair roller put up the fastest time???

  • bhw

    The top finisher, with a time of just over an hour, was a man in a wheelchair.

    I think that the elite women and men essentially *do* have separate races, as Joe indicated above. Each group of elite runners starts at a separate time, as do the wheelchairers.

    After the elite runners, it looks like everyone else is just given a number, judging by the photos I just looked at.

  • Bennett Dawson

    If we take your approach, then the photo of the overall winner would have had a person in a wheelchair in it.

    I don’t get this argument. My approach would have the top finisher, the winner of the race, having a photo op.

    If women want to compete against women, and men against men, have separate races. Or recognize that the F1 designation was to alert viewers that they are looking at a female athlete (steroid enduced gender nutrality assumed).


  • bhw

    There’s nothing wrong with women competing against women and men competing against men.

    If we take your approach, then the photo of the overall winner would have had a person in a wheelchair in it.

    Interestingly, the wheelchair competitors sport a W on their bibs, but no indication of gender. It seems that able-bodied men are the only ones who don’t get specially tagged.

  • Bennett Dawson

    Yeah, if we’re looking for gender equality, you’d have to get rid of the whole concept of gender based finishers. Other than for runners to see how they did against their own gender, or age group, or zodiological sign.

    These things can all be tracked via the shoe chip, right?

    Since we’re not seeing the top three male or female runners, the photo session should be with the overall winner regardless of gender. Print or broadcast news could note the top runner of the other gender if they like.


  • JR

    Here’s a thought: how about give the overall winner a “1”, and the fastest runner of the opposite gender a “G1”?

    I really think, though, that if and when women start winning the overall, they’ll just drop the whole gender classification altogether.

    And I fail to see how men “get the shaft” in any system of classification. If they have to break it down to categories because the women can never beat the men, we’ll always know who the overall winner is; bragging rights is all any real competitor cares about.

  • Joe

    Right, skimmed the defending champion part. Catherine Ndereba won for the fourth time today so maybe next years she should get “4X1” as her number for next year(or “4XF1”).

  • bhw

    The pictures are from a media event before today’s race [maybe held yesterday?]. I “borrowed” it from Boston.com before today’s race was over.

  • Joe

    Good point about the chips, but those are really strictly for timing purposes. They could probably do away with the paper numbers but they’re kind of a nice souvenir with some historical relevance. Thinking about it, that picture is probably of the winners holding up their numbers for next year’s race which they are awarded after winning this years race. The paper numbers do serve a secondary purpose for timekeeping but are also used by race judges.

  • bhw

    Would an A and B designation be satisfactory?


    You make a good point about separate races, Joe. One reason for distinguishing between men and women might be for the people keeping track of who crosses the finish line when. It would certainly help to have an easy visual distinction, although now all the runners have chips in their shoes, so it should be much easier to record men v. women by chip number.

  • Joe

    I guess, though, if they’re starting at different times then they truly are running different races. Would an A and B designation be satisfactory? I’d also assume that the later F-racer’s were competing specifically in the woman’s race which seperated them from the elite men’s race and the mere mortals who just get a number with no accoutrements.

  • wil

    I hate hearing those stories, It’s appaling the things those people had to go through and is a shining example for the rest of us just what real strength of character and perseverance are. Hopefully the voice of reason is heard and that simple things like denoting an F infront of the womens names (be it elite runners or not) be eliminated…..YES maybe the vaunted first in a category should sport it…something extra…but everyone?? That being said I wholeheartedly agree…have everyguy in the race sport an M then. However a much better solution…simply remove the “F” and do not denote the gender…we should be able to tell anyways.

  • bhw

    I think Boston does, too Joe.

    Again, I’m not saying anything about the men’s and women’s categories, just how they’re denoted differently.

    Even Wil seems to agree with me now!

  • Joe

    Well, if you look at the BAA web site, they actually split the coverage into men’s and women’s races. They actually break the classifications down to further sub-groups by age but that’s for the benefit of those racing who want to know how they stack up against their peers. Additionally, I think for the elites (in this case professional runners) they may actually start the men and women at different times. I know some of the other big races do that but I’m not sure about Boston.

  • wil

    One thing I find ridiculous however is the fact that people who come in at later positions place an F infront of their names. That is degrading, what are these people saying they couldn’t tell? I say get rid of those and simply have the number/name and that is it.

    sigh bored at work, can anyone tell?

  • bhw

    Hey, Wil, vive la différence!

    Just label both sexes equally, that’s all. It’s not just that the #1 female runner has an F on her shirt to distinguish her from the overall winner, but that at least 100 more women do, too, while NO men sport an M [I’m not sure if all women get an F on their shirt or just the elite runners].

    You should know that the Boston Marathon and long distance running in general don’t exactly have a good record with the ladies.

    Women Run to the Front
    Roberta Gibb was the first woman to run the full Boston Marathon in 1966. Gibb, who did not run with an official race number during any of the three years (1966-68) that she was the first female finisher, hid in the bushes near the start until the race began. In 1967, Katherine Switzer did not clearly identify herself as a female on the race application and was issued a bib number. B.A.A. officials tried unsuccessfully to physically remove Switzer from the race once she was identified as a woman entrant. At the time of Switzer’s run, the Amateur Athletics Union (A.A.U.) had yet to formally accept participation of women in long distance running. When the A.A.U. permitted its sanctioned marathons (including Boston) to allow women entry in the fall of 1971, Nina Kuscsik’s 1972 B.A.A. victory the following spring made her the first official champion. Eight women started that race and all eight finished.

  • wil


    There are differences in the sexes, always have been and hopefully always will be. These differences should be applauded not frowned upon.

    Sexism is when one is percieved as lesser. I say salute the differences without degrading either. Each sex has certain attributes it does better. Does that also mean that the special olympics should not be there? I mean that is probably degrading to the people competing.
    If you want to remove the qualifier of sex…you remove an element of prize and challenge….I say bring on the women…let them earn that number one spot and then I shall proudly display the M1 symbol…..and fiercely compete the year after in order to earn the vaunted plain 1. It is the spirit of the game and the thrill of competition and should not be dragged down. However to appease people maybe removing that category completely would be better, put it to a vote…have the sex qualifier or not…I care not…make it a generic whoever came in first and take one person out of the limelight. Although you may not like it…maybe they do. I know I would still prize it, enjoy winning an M1 should a female come in first…so I was beat…I still beat out the other guys…truly an accomplishment in my mind.

    anyways thats just my two cents.

  • In that case, I want a C1 for coming in first in the couch-potato race.

    Maybe that should be UC1, since I did it in my underwear…

    Perhaps that’ll discourage them from awarding a “female” prize in the same category, no?

  • wil

    I agree, there should be something like m1 as well as just plain 1….however I think since the first male would be m1 it would be moot. I however do say that if ever a gal finishes first there better be an M1!! A) To give the race continuity and B) not shaft men out of a hard earned position!!

  • wil

    That was meant to be she did well…not didn’t well.

  • bhw

    Once again it’s not women…but I think Men who get the shaft.


    There’s nothing wrong with separate categories, Wil. Let’s just actually denote each category in an equal, nonsexist way. Is that really too much to ask for?

  • wil

    Sigh….and when will the complaining end? I got it…lets just take the sexist award away and award nothing!!! no seperate categories nothing…ahh and yet another nerf to society for the sake of equality…and soon everything shall be equal…nothing special. Jeez so what if she got the F1…..she didnt Well. I’d personally like an M1 or an E1 (elderly) or anything else stating how well I placed…maybe not top overall but top for my category. Once again it’s not women…but I think Men who get the shaft.

  • bhw

    Damn you and your good questions!

    I dunno, maybe a little gold ribbon or something to denote overall winner?

    I just saw a photo from today’s race, and at least up through the number 102, women were sporting an F in front of their names, even though many of those women will place ahead of men.

    None of the men had an M in front of their number.

  • JR

    But I wonder: some day, if a woman finishes first overall — and some argue that it’s possible because women’s times keep closing in on men’s — will she get the plain #1 and the man an M1?

    My guess is she’ll get the plain #1 and he won’t be in the picture.

    So if the guy gets an M1 and the girl gets an F1, how are we supposed to tell at a glance who actually won?